When you're married to show business, it's nigh impossible to balance career and family. Sometimes, tough decisions must be made. My semifamous boyfriend and I have already agreed that we're never having children; one Lorna Luft in the world is plenty.
Yet as I plow through my mid-30s, I'm noticing that not only are many of my friends in "the biz" starting families, they're also coming up with ways to make good music accessible to their offspring at a very early age, sometimes even in utero. So this week, when I received two seemingly cool new CDs for "the entire family" —The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides (Bloodshot), featuring alt-country upstarts like Kelly Hogan, the Handsome Family, and Carolyn Mark, and No! by They Might Be Giants (Idlewild Recordings)—I decided to contact four of my favorite Seattle rock moms and solicit their opinions about exposing children to music.
Knowing how my sainted mother always plans ahead, I first asked my experts if they'd deliberately gone to concerts while pregnant. A resounding round of affirmatives ensued. Kyla Fairchild, co-publisher of No Depression magazine, was even attending a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Spiritualized double bill the night before her second son, Owen, arrived. "I saw a lot of live music when he was in the womb, and I often thought about him and wondered how he was enjoying the show," says Fairchild. Evidence suggests Owen liked what he heard. "He was a couple weeks late, and I swear it was because he knew there was a string of really good shows coming up, and he didn't want to miss any of them!
"I did wonder if the loud music was bad for him," she adds, "but I couldn't find any information that it was, and it's always been my feeling that the child will be living in the world, so you might as well expose them to as much stimulus as possible while they're young, so they get used to it and are more adaptable as they get older."
Once they're actually old enough to respond to music, what drives the graham-crackers-and-milk set gaga? The beat! Ava, 2-year-old daughter of RealNetworks' Kathy Mar, loves KISS and the Ramones. "I think it's the faster tempo," surmises Mar. "She's also crazy for bluegrass these days." Courtney Miller, marketing director for KEXP, says her little Livia also "tends to lean toward anything that has upbeat rhythm or a nice melody." Her favorites include Modest Mouse, the Rolling Stones, and Woody Guthrie. With a little prompting from her dad, Dan, she's also learned to appreciate Harry Nillson's The Point and some of the selections from Music for Children by German composer Carl Orff (a key influence on the much-ballyhooed Langley Schools Music Project, too).
While Raffi and his ilk got the thumbs-down from these moms, the majority conceded that sometimes letting a giant purple dinosaur entertain your 2-year-old is a necessary evil. "It's not what I would prefer, but you do end up surrendering to some of it, because the kids are so drawn to it and the marketing is so insidious," confesses Miller. "You just have to keep it to a minimum." Kathy Mar and her husband, Ed, concur: "We tried to avoid artists like that like the plague, both pre- and post-birth. We still don't necessarily seek those artists out, but we don't disallow them, either."
But is it any healthier to let your youngster hear the tale of poor "Godfrey" ("the sickly, unemployed, amateur children's magician"), Robbie Fulks' twisted contribution to The Bottle Let Me Down? Apparently so. Susie Tennant, the public programs manager who organizes Experience Music Project's Family Concert series "with the goal of providing a community-oriented, family-friendly, musically charged environment for kids and adults" (upcoming shows include John Doe, Kristin Hersh, and ex-Del Fuegos front-man Dan Zanes; for more info visit www.emplive.com), praises both the aforementioned TMBG and Bloodshot discs.
"I love these kinds of records, because I feel like they are made by adults who are interested in exposing kids to music that exists outside the commercial arena of what is normally—crassly—marketed to them," says Tennant. "I still remember how my relationship with music changed when I learned that there was so much more out there than what I was exposed to from the radio."
Seattle tots are listening to the Ramones, Modest Mouse, They Might Be Giants, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. Perhaps there's still hope for the future. And if M truly is for "the many things she gave me," these ladies needn't worry about their progeny penning the new Mommie Dearest. Nah, that's more the sort of behavior I would expect from my kid.